Pvt. Cecil Walter Kitchens


    Pvt. Cecil W. Kitchens was born on September 24, 1917, in Clarita, Oklahoma, to Clyde W. Kitchens & Lona Lee Winchester-Kitchen.  With his sister, he lived at 108 West Local Avenue, Sayre, Oklahoma, and earned a living by delivering ice for an ice company.  He was known as "Kitch" to his friends. 
    On March 24, 1941, in Oklahoma City, Kitch was inducted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training.  It was during his time at Ft. Knox that he qualified as a tank driver.  Upon completing basic training, he was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and assigned to the 753rd Tank Battalion.
    The 192nd had just taken part in maneuvers at Camp Polk and instead of returning to Ft. Knox as expected, they were kept at the fort.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were being held there.  On the side of a hill, the battalion was informed that they were being sent overseas.  Those members of the battalion who were 29 years old or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  It was at that time that Kitch joined the 192nd and assigned to A Company.
    The company traveled by train to San Francisco, California, and were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. C oxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island, where they received inoculations and physicals.  Those members of the battalion who were found to have treatable medical conditions remained behind on the island.  They were scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.  Other men were simply replaced.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27.  During this part of the trip, many of the tankers suffered from seasickness.  Once they recovered, they spent their time breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.  The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. President Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.  On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized that they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.  Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. 
    For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, the members of A Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  His tank and the others were sent to the perimeter of the airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  At 8:30, the American planes took off and filled the sky in every direction.  They landed at noon, to be refueled, and were lined up, in a straight line, near the mess hall while the pilots went to lunch.
    During lunch, the "replacements" were ordered to stay with the equipment while the original members of the battalion went to eat.  The tankers were eating lunch when a formation of 54 planes was spotted approaching the airfield from the north.  The tankers believed the planes were American. As they watched, raindrops fell from the planes.  When bombs exploded on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.    
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  Since the battalion's bivouac was near the main road between the fort and airfield, the soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks and trucks.  Anything that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
    That night the soldiers had slept their last night in a bed.  For protection, they slept under their tanks or in them.
    Four days after the attack, on December 12, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau to protect a highway and railroad from sabotage.  From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 
    On December 23 and 24, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost the company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27 and 28.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BanBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29 serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  That night, on a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.
   As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31 and January 1.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.
    As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers.  The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks.  To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen.  Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
    From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.  It was also in January 1942, that the food ration was cut in half.  It was not too long after this was done that malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever began hitting the soldiers. January that the food rations were cut in half.  Not long after this, malaria, dysentery, and dengue fever soon spread among the soldiers.
     A Company, was sent in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  At Guagua,  A Company with the 11th Infantry Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the Filipinos mistook the tanks as Japanese and accurately used mortars on them knocking out three tanks.  A Company rejoined the 194th east of Guagua.tanks were often the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as American and Filipino units withdrew toward Bataan.     
    The night of January 7, A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan over the Culis Creek.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  They also took part in the Battle of the Pockets and the Battle of the Points.
    The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese for several weeks slowing them down in their conquest of the Philippines.  At some point, Kitchens was nominated for the Silver Star.
    The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets - from January 23 to February 17 - to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed pack to the original line of defense.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.  Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
    While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks.  These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire.  If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank.  The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank.  When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank.  It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
    Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time.  A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter.  This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
    The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.  During the Battle of the Points, on March 2 and 3, the tanks were sent in to wipe out Japanese troops that had landed on points of land behind the main defensive line and trapped behind the line after the Filipino and American Cut them off.  Both pockets were wiped out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."   The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.
    The night of April 8, 1942, the members of A Company circled their tanks.  Each tank fired one armor piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it.  The tankers next opened up the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the turrets.  The next morning at 7:00 A.M. they became Prisoners of War.
     The POWs made their way north from Mariveles.  The first five miles of the march were uphill.  At one point, the members of the company had to run past Japanese artillery firing on Corregidor.  They received little water and little food.  When they reached San Fernando, they were put into a bull pen.  In one corner of the bull pen was a trench the POWs were suppose to use as a washroom.  The surface of the trench was alive with maggots.  How long they remained in the bull pen is not known. 
    The Japanese ordered the POWs to form ranks.  They were marched to the train stationed and packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese  packed 100 POWs into each car.  Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  They walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base which the Japanese pressed the camp into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.  When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them.  They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse.  Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp.  These POWs had been executed for looting.
    There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink.  The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again.  This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
    There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled.  In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed.  The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery.  The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
    The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant.  When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter.  When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, the
Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp.  When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
    The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them.  When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150 bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
    Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it.  The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria.  To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it.  The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
    Work details were sent out on a daily basis.  Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work.  If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick, but could walk, to work.  The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
    After arriving in the camp, near the end of May, Kitch was one of the POWs who returned to Bataan to collect scrap metal.  On the detail, Kitch drove a truck with scrap metal to Manila.  When the detail he was on ended he was sent to the Cabanatuan POW Camp which had opened to reduce the death rate among the POWs.  The camp had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and previously known as Camp Panagaian.
    The camp was actually three camps.  Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held.  Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed.  It later reopened and housed Naval POWs.  Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken.  In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp.  Camps 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
    Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp.  The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with.  To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp.  The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch.  It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    In the camp, the Japanese instituted the "Blood Brother" rule.  If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed.  POWs caught trying to escape were beaten.  Those who did escape and were caught, were tortured before being executed.  It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
    The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them.  The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting.  Many quickly became ill.  Kitch was assigned to a barracks which meant that the members of his group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
    The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens.  The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years.  A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until  5:00 P.M.
    Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugaii" which meant "wet rice."  During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit.  Once in awhile, they received bread.
    The farm detail was under a Japanese guard known as "Big Speedo" because he was taller than most of the Japanese.  He knew very little English and used the word "Speedo" when he wanted the POWs to work faster.  Overall, the POWs felt he treated them fairly and did not abuse them.  There was also a smaller Japanese guard known as "Little Speedo," who was fair to the POWs.  Smiley was another guard who the POWs quickly learned not to trust.  He always had a smile on his face, but he was mean and beat the POWs for no apparent reason.
   The POWs cleared the area and planted comotes, cassava, taro, sesame, and various greens.  The Japanese used most of the food for themselves.  When the POWs arrived at the farm, they would enter a shed.  As they came out, it was common for them to be hit over the heads by the guards.  It is known that Cecil worked on this detail.
    One day after returning from working, he stacked his hoe in a pile,  The guard began yelling at him.  Apparently, he should have started a new stack of hoes. The guard hit Kitch in the mouth with his bayonet and cut off part of his upper lip.  The POWs used wet pages from a bible to treat the wound.  
    The Japanese wanted an airfield for their fighters, so the POWs were given the job of constructing it.  The POWs leveled the land and moved dirt.  At first, they used wheelbarrows to move the soil, but when this became inefficient, mining cars and track were brought in, and the POWs loaded the cars and pushed them to where the dirt was being dumped.
    The POWs also worked planting rice.  While doing this, one the favorite punishments was for a guard to push a man's face into the mud. Once his head was in the mud, the guard would step on his head to drive it deeper.  Other details did go out, but usually lasted a few days.  Major details, of hundreds of men, left the camp and worked on projects that lasted years.  When, due to illness or death, details became depleted, more POWs left the camp for details as replacements.
    The camp hospital was known as "Zero Ward" because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks.  The sickest POWs were sent there to die.  The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building.  There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building.  The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so the they could relieve themselves.  Most of those who entered the ward died.
    The POWs had the job of burying the dead.  To do this, they worked in teams of four men.  Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies.
    Kitch was selected to go to Manila and work on what was called the Port Area Detail which was created in June 1942 with 225 POWs.  The POWs were used as stevedores to load and unload ships.  The POWs were first housed in a warehouse which was poorly lit and ventilated.  The bathroom and kitchen facilities were also poor.  The Japanese finally housed the POWs in the Port Terminal Building across the street from Pier 7. 
    During his time as a POW, Kitch, at various times, had dysentery, beriberi, malaria , and malnutrition.  He became so ill, at one point, that he was sent to the hospital ward at Bilibid Prison on November 6, 1943, and admitted to the ward.  It was during this time that he became friends with Dr. Paul Ashton.  He was discharged from the hospital on June 21, 1944, and sent to what was called, "The Well Group" at the prison.
    It is known that Kitch was still at Bilibid at the beginning of 1945.  On February 3, the Japanese commander told the ranking American officer that they were leaving the prison and that the POWs should stay inside.  That night the POWs posted guards and waited. 
    The POWs heard the sound of someone attempting to get into the prison through the window.  The plywood was torn from the window and American soldiers of the 148th Infantry Regiment came through the window.  At first the POWs thought that the soldiers were Japanese sent to kill them.  One reason they did not recognize the Americans was that the POWs did not recognize the uniforms, but they celebrated when they saw that the soldiers were Americans.  The POWs were trucked to a shoe factory, for their own safety, since Manila was still a battlefield. 
    The former POWs were taken to a rest area where they remained for ten days.  At that time, Kitch was assigned to the 12th Replacement Battalion which was made up of liberated POWs.  At the end of ten days, the POWs boarded the S.S. Monterey which arrived at San Francisco on March 16, 1945.  Upon arriving there, the POWs were taken to Letterman General Hospital but it is not known how long he stayed there.  After returning home, he learned from his sister that both his parents had died while he was POW.  In his mother's case, just one day before he was liberated.
    He was transferred to Borden General Hospital in Chichasha, Oklahoma.  During this time, he was given furloughs home but had to return to the hospital.  Kitch remained remained in the hospital for about five months.   
    At some point he married, May Lou Gregory, and received a 90 day leave home.  Kitch became the father of a son and spent the rest of his life in Oklahoma.  According his family, his health never really recovered from his time as a POW.
    After the war, Kitch worked at various jobs.  He became a wheat farmer,  raised Hereford cattle, drove heavy equipment, and ran a milk distributorship.  He also contracted to extend runways at Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base.
    Ceceil W. Kitchens passed away on November 18, 1967, in Sayre, Oklahoma, and was buried at Sayre-Doxey Cemetery, in Sayre.

 

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